The art of the book is flourishing in Johannesburg. The University of Johannesburg is currently hosting two important exhibitions. These are not to be missed and are of international stature. I spent a wonderful Sunday late afternoon enthralled and excited at one of these exhibitions. 

Booknesses: Artists books from the Jack Ginsberg collection is curated by David Paton, and assisted by Annail Dempsey, Rosalind Cleaver and Jack Ginsberg. This exhibition is to be found at the gallery near the UJ Theatre, Kingsway Campus. Over 250 artists books from the Jack Ginsberg collection are on display. Each book is beautiful, imaginative, creative and many are unique. The exhibition is one of the largest and most comprehensive to be held anywhere, ever!

This exhibition is  a rare treat in Johannesburg and it is more than 20 years since the Ginsberg Collection was last exhibited at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, and in the intervening time Jack has added to his magnificent and internationally renowned collection. The art of the book reveals the book as a book but also as an art form. The subject matter of the book becomes secondary to the transformation of the book into a colourful, brilliant work of art. The book in the hands of many artists becomes a special almost secret work of art as you need to open up and get between the covers. Here one enters the world of handmade paper, very limited editions, unique one off books, private presses, embroidered books, signed books, unpaged books and so much more. Each one entrances and enchants. Books pop up, spiral into a tunnel, fold out, scroll down, fan wide, stand up like a long connected card. The ingenuity of shape and form is endless.  

Who are the artists? Almost too many to mention but South African artists such as William Kentridge, Pippa Skotness, Malcolm Payne, Jonah Sack, Kim Berman, David Andrew, Colin Richards, Judith Mason, Keith Dietrich are all represented in the Ginsberg exhibition. Collecting such books has been the passion and life's work of Jack Ginsberg. He has collected artists' books from around the world for over four decades. 

Each  of these books demands touching, feeling and the ritual of turning the pages but these treasures are displayed behind glass. Use your eyes to absorb the splendor of this unusual art form. It is a rare gem on the African continent. The exhibition is a moment where author, artists, collector and the visitor engage to celebrate the book as art. This is an exhibition to visit not once but several times simply because there is so much to absorb . 

The exhibition is accompanied by a published catalogue, Booknesses : Artists' Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection. The book brings together not only the illustrated inventory of the books on display but adds to the literature on the book with essays by David Paton, Keith Dietrich, Pippa Skotnes, Robbin Ami Silverberg. There is a recorded conversation of Kim Berman and others with Jack Ginsberg explaining how and why he fell into this form of bibliomania. It is an extraordinary legacy. The book Booknesses is available in a substantial soft cover version at R650.  In addition the hard cover collector's version, signed by Jack Ginsberg and David Paton is also on sale at R1500 (only 26 copies were printed). I could not resist the limited edition of the catalogue. 

Jack Ginsberg is also the man behind the Walter Battiss Exhibition; in 2016 the Walter Battiss retrospective exhibition at the Wits Art Museum showed over 700 pieces of Ginsberg's Battiss collection. 

There is a further exhibition called Booknesses: South African Artists' Books curated by David Paton, Eugene Hon, Gordon Froud and Rosaland Cleaver at FADA on the UJ Campus (Bunting Road Campus). This second exhibition displays over 100 works by South African artists and is accompanied by an online catalogue. The website is and this website contains a wealth of information with databases, catalogues, bibliographies and much more. I have yet to visit this exhibition. 

Kathy Munro

Johannesburg Artists' Book exhibitions 25 March - 5 May 2017

Events Exhibitions Tours
Monday, March 27, 2017 - 15:11

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